For many gamblers, instant win scratch cards have been a great way to enjoy a quick game that’s fun, affordable, and offers players a chance to win some reasonable prizes. But what do you know about the history of this exciting way to gamble? Join us as we unpack exactly what scratch cards are and then take you through their past, from their origins all the way to the introduction of online scratch cards.
What are scratch cards?
A scratch card is a quick and easy way for people to gamble. These are physical or digital cards that come in a myriad of designs, but all follow the same essential format: a card with hidden symbols or numbers, which can be revealed by scratching the surface of the card to discover if you’ve won a prize!
In their physical form, these cards usually have a wax-like substance on the surface that you can remove with a hard object, such as a coin or a key, to reveal the symbols or numbers below. In their digital form, players can use a mouse or touchpad on a computer, or their finger on a device with a touchscreen, to rub away the layer that hides the symbols beneath it. Depending on the scratch card that you’ve purchased, different prizes can be won depending on the combination of symbols that you get.
The origins of scratch cards
While one may think that a clever idea like scratch cards has been around for at least as long as slot machines, they are actually a relatively new way to gamble and were invented in the middle of the 20th century. The original cards were manually designed, with companies investing large amounts of time and money into ensuring the cards offered reasonable and fair odds. However, all of this would start to change in 1972.
In the Mental Floss article “A Revealing History of Lotto Scratch-Offs,” writerJake Rossen highlights how scientist John Koza would complete his PhD and be fired from his part-time job at a company that developed scratch cards. These cards were part of weekly lottery draws and had yet to become the instant win games they are today.
As you may have guessed, the idea for turning scratch cards into games where the player instantly knew the results of the game was something that fascinated Koza, and he believed lotto players would find it intriguing as well. However, he knew he would need help developing the cards and convincing lottery officials to give his idea a chance. Dan Bower, a former coworker, saw the potential in Koza’s idea and helped him start up Scientific Games Corporation.
They got to work developing their game and managed to convince the head of the lotto commission in Massachusetts, William Perrault, to try out their game. After Perrault ordered 25 million cards, the two had numerous other challenges to overcome. They managed to figure out solutions to these problems, and within seven days of going on sale, their game had almost tripled the amount earned by other lottery-style tickets.
Scratch cards would go on to become a popular way to gamble across the US, making the founders of Scientific Games Corporation very, very rich.
Other competitors have since adapted the idea, but there’s absolutely no doubt that credit for the original concept goes to Koza, who revolutionised the way people gamble.
However, that wasn’t the end of the story for scratch cards. While these instant-win cards were undoubtedly a popular gambling game, a new piece of technology would come along that would change the way people would gamble forever.
Scratch cards go online
The internet may be a part of everyday life and gambling today, but there was a time when you couldn’t just sit at your computer or pull out your phone to enjoy a quick dance with Lady Luck. In the early 1990s, you actually had to go to a casino, sportsbook, or another gambling venue to play your favourite gambling games.
Thankfully it didn’t take long for gambling entrepreneurs to realise the potential of the internet after it became publicly accessible in 1994. Online casinos and poker sites began appearing a few years later, providing gamblers with many of their favourite games when they chose to play at a casino online.
In regards to online scratch cards, no one knows for sure exactly when they made the leap into cyberspace, but these virtual scratch cards otherwise offered a virtually identical gaming experience to their physical counterparts. Players could swipe away at a card using a mouse, touchpad, or finger to find out whether they’d won a prize, either by collecting enough symbols or matching numbers.
Regardless of when they began to appear online, digital scratch cards have since become a popular way to gamble, particularly if you only have a few minutes to play. The online version of the game has a number of other benefits as well, including a greater range of prices to suit all budgets, larger prizes, even faster payouts, and of course, increased accessibility thanks to the ability to play from anywhere (as long as you are connected to the internet).
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